Rental Registry a ‘Success’

With another summer in the books, the second since East Hampton Town established a rental registry to help rein in problematic illegal short-term and overcrowded rentals, the legislation was this week declared a “terrific success” by Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.  

“There’s no question in my mind that it was the right thing to do, and it’s working,” he said Tuesday.

In unanimously adopting a rental registry law at the start of 2016 in the face of vocal opposition, the town board said in a resolution at the time that it “recognizes that there are rising concerns and incidences of single-family residences being overcrowded, utilized as share houses, motels or other transient housing accommodations, multi-family residences and two-family residences.” 

“A large percentage of these incidences occur in rental properties, properties not occupied by the owner of the property,” it concluded. The requirement that landlords tell the town about rentals — their duration, number of tenants, and so on — and update the information when rental periods end or begin again, was meant to help enforcement officers more easily determine whether a property is being misused, or rented outside the limits of the town code. 

The code allows two rentals of 14 days or less of a particular property within a six-month period. But with the rise of Airbnb, a market has grown here for short-term vacation rentals. Opponents of the rental registry argued before its adoption that the rental market has changed, and there are fewer people seeking season-long rentals. 

“Excessive turnover” — the town code definition of repeated short-term rentals — was behind many of the complaints by residents about noise, overcrowding, and neighborhood disruption, town officials surmised.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s been as crazy this year,” Kelly Kampf, the town’s assistant director of public safety, said of the 2017 season. “We haven’t had too many share-house complaints.” 

In 2016, the town issued 3,138 rental registry numbers, which remain in effect for two years. An additional 597 were issued this year. Last year, 58 citations were issued to property owners for renting without getting a registry number or failing to update the information on file with the town as required. This year, 41 such cases have been opened, Ms. Kampf said. 

A few people have been charged with failure to include a rental registry number in rental advertising, she said, but there is no regular review of advertisements, Ms. Kampf said. Online rental sites are surveyed, and the calendars showing rental periods are reviewed. 

Ordinance officers have been proactive, said Ms. Kampf, and visited houses that have previously been misused, outside of housing ordinances, with owners and tenants informed as to the laws. “We wanted to give them an opportunity to fix it,” Ms. Kampf said. “We try to give people the benefit of the doubt to an extent.”

Last year, there were 218 cases regarding housing violations, including excessive turnover, share houses, or overcrowding. This year’s tally, as of now, is 159.

The Building Department keeps the registry, and a number of investigations originate from referrals from the department when certificates of occupancy and other records that show the square footage of a house — which correlates to the number of people that can occupy it — do not sync with tenant information supplied for a rental registry application. 

The majority of cases, said Ms. Kampf, “have been clear negligence” and a failure to update “at all.” 

Nonetheless, the town has had “a fairly high level of compliance with the registry,” Mr. Cantwell said. “I think the monitoring has been pretty good. We could always improve.”